Judging by the slew of contestants in this month's Sound & Vision, in which current videos are rated on a scale of 0-100, today's video-worthy artists seem more interested in dissecting the societal roles people play than reinventing themselves into someone cool for the camera.
Most of the videos here don't resemble Guess ads, and the artists look nothing like action heroes or the cast of "Friends." Instead, video magic allows us to observe Alanis Morissette confronting her various personalities inside a crowded car, or the exasperated members of Lush warding off sleazy characters in a nightclub. And we see No Doubt's Gwen Stefani question her own role as a goofy girl in this big, bad and frustrating world.
This may seem like no big deal, but consider that until now, about 90% of the pop videos out there have been fueled by vanity, whether from Mariah Carey, Henry Rollins or Snoop Doggy Dogg. These new videos not only catalog a change in the direction of music, but may also mark a welcome turning point in the art of video making.
Alanis Morissette, "Ironic." Isn't it ironic that a video made for Morissette, a chart-topping, Grammy-winning artist, revels in understatement? It opens with Morissette, wearing mittens and a red ski cap, driving alone down a snow-laced road in an ugly sedan. Eventually, each seat in the car is occupied by her different personalities. One hangs out the window and howls, another plays air instruments to the song, and the third sings along with the refrain and giggles a lot. Morissette displays these sides of her own personality while singing about life's ironies: "It's like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife." Like her lyrics, it's a simple but revealing idea and makes "Ironic" stand out from MTV's sea of videos, where pop stars are constantly trying to out-cool each other. 90
Lush, "Ladykillers." Whereas Morissette offers a look into her own self-images, the English group pulls the lens back and illuminates the myriad personalities out in the real world. Directed by Mark Pellington (of Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" fame), the video centers on the subject of tired pickup lines from loser guys. The slick, strobe-heavy scenes find singer Miki Berenyi looking bored as several men approach her in a crowded nightclub. She scoffs at the Casanovas, singing, "When it comes to men like you, I know the score, I've heard it all before." The scenes are intercut with images of a snarling wolf, a snapping shark and a hissing rattlesnake. This strong, straightforward video shows some personality and biting humor in Lush's previously indifferent persona. 90
No Doubt, "Just a Girl." Gwen Stefani doesn't dodge any sleazy guys in the Orange County band's remarkably entertaining and low-budget debut video, but she does a good job of avoiding conventional female roles. Not since Cyndi Lauper chirped "Girls just want to have fun" has a wacky female singer come off as playfully in control as this blond frontwoman, who stands knock-kneed and prissy one minute, then drops to the floor and does push-ups like a Marine the next. The setting is split between a grimy men's room and a blue-and-pink powder room where Stefani sings about being trapped in a girl world. At the end, the guys in the band break through the wall and everyone jams together in a crazed, Dionysian love feast. 85
Coolio, "1,2,3,4." The hair-raising rapper continues No Doubt's warped party vibe, bribing a kid for his scooter, stealing a rowboat, riding a Big Wheel and even bailing out of a plane in search of the house party where his girlfriend waits for him. The video plays with Coolio's biggest assets, humor and a sense of adventure, and one-ups the craziness with cartoon-like sound effects and "Wacky Races" antics--in one memorable sequence, he rides a bike into a rock, flies through the air and lands conveniently next to a departing plane at the airport. 85
Smashing Pumpkins, "1979." The clip begins promisingly, with a carload of Rebellious Teens blowing down the road in a '70s-era sedan, then crashing a party where kids guzzle beer from plastic cups and pogo to a pop band played by the Pumpkins. But it doesn't take long for the group to start playing into teen-movie director John Hughes' most hackneyed plot lines: Two kids are caught having sex in the shower. Another gets pushed around by bullies. A house gets toilet-papered (the fisheye-view of the unraveling roll is impressive). The video ends with the teens destroying a convenience store as two doughnut-eating cops ignore them. Isn't it ironic that such an inventive band is saddled with such a predictable theme? 65
Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Aeroplane." "Somebody slap me," sings Anthony Kiedis. By the video's end, that's exactly what you want to do. The band's antics are as obnoxious as ever: Flea makes stupid faces, Kiedis tries his best to look bad (or good, or whatever), and tons o' women supply the necessary heterosexual vibe. The video itself is actually quite stunning to look at, as sequin-covered dancers execute moves somewhere between old-school showgirls and post-punk strippers. But no matter how dazzling the video, the Chili Peppers are still in it. 40